Plentiful coal brought the Alcoa era to Rockdale
Joy Graham

McAlester Fuel Company headquartered in McAlester, Oklahoma, began mining lignite coal in 1924, just southwest of Rockdale at an area called “Sandow”.

J. G. Puterbaugh headed up this company. Back then the overburden was removed allowing the removal of the seam of lignite.

It was loaded into haulers pulled by mules, then unloaded into open train cars.

Lignite was used for heating and some of the early customers were: Texas A& M University, New Braunfels Power Plant, ice plants, gins, oil mills and other business customers of McAlester Fuel Company.

This area with lignite was known to Milam County as Sandow Millerton.

Residents of that area built a brick school building and even made the bricks. That school bui lding was removed after the administration building was completed in the early 1950’s when Alcoa decided to locate its largest aluminum smelter in the U.S. here.

There were billboard signs on US 79 which advertised “99 Years of Lignite Deposit Here”.

George Sessions Perry, local author wrote an article for The Saturday Evening Post.

The decision to locate an aluminum smelter here was because Mi lam County had a power source, lignite coal, to make Alcoa’s product, which was, of course, aluminum.

John M. Weed Sr., a long time McAlester Fuel Company employee, leased the land and was in charge of the mines before the land sale and during the transition.

On March 1, 1953. Industrial Generating Co. (I.G.C.) was incorporated as a subsidiary of Texas Utilities Company to operate the lignite-fired power plant under the startup direction of Texas Power and Light Company, also a TU subsidiary.

The plant soon became known as I.G.C

Very soon after the announcement, Dean Skinner & Co. from Austin began digging a 500-acre lake.

That was a sight to see in the early 1950s.

Many local residents drove out to watch the giant earth-moving equipment complete this project.

A water contract was negotiated and was pumped from the Little River near Minerva, 12 miles away, to fill the lake.

Three 100 mega-watt electric producing units were erected to provide electricity to power the aluminum smelter.

Residents in Rockdale wondered what this industrial monstrosity would do to their quiet little town.

It took some time for construction crews to complete the lake and build the generators at Alcoa’s Rockdale Works.

Business as usual changed.

The small town began to grow. Housing increased with a couple of major subdivisions which increased Rockdales size, first the Coffield Addition, then Westwood Addition with a boulevard drive named Calhoun.

To be continued. maryjoygraham@yahoocom

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